Where does the quote "I never saw a pessimistic general win a battle" come from?

I saw it posted on Facebook and attributed to American poet, E.E. Cummings (or e. e. cummings, as he sometimes liked to style it).

I'm not a poetry expert, but from what I remember of him, it didn't sound like something he would say. I googled just the quote and it appears that Eisenhower said it. However, if you google the quote plus "E.E. Cummings" you get multiple hits attributing the quote to him.

The friend who posted it even posted a picture of the quote in a book attributing it to Cummings.

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1 Answer 1


The 1974 book Your Handicap: Don't Let It Handicap You says:

At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of People-to-People in September, 1965, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "I never saw a pessimistic general win a battle."

Furthermore, a US government archive document EISENHOWER, DWIGHT D.: POST-PRESIDENTIAL PAPERS, 1961-69: 1965 PRINCIPAL FILE says:

WAS (1)-(3) [Abbott Washburn-People-to-People; Eisenhower quote, “I never saw a pessimistic General win a battle;” Eisenhower comments on People-to-People’s origins and reasons for supporting it; C. Langhorne Washburn-Republican National Committee; items stolen from Eisenhower’s car]

These references are specific as to time and place, and seem to credibly support that Eisenhower did use the quote. Yet, it's still a possibility that the quote was used by E. E. Cummings (who died in 1962) first.

  • 4
    The two quotes do support that Eisenhower used that line on at least two occasions. But this still doesn't rule out that it was Cummings who coined it after all. Cummings died in 1962, three years before the given dates. Eisenhower could simply be quoting Cummings himself (knowingly or unknowingly). I don't claim that this is what must have happened. Yet it seems to me that it may be rather difficult to prove that the quote indeed was first used by Eisenhower and not Cummings by producing evidence that Eisenhower used it at some point.
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 17:19
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    @Schmuddi yes, I can't rule out that Cummings said it too
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 17:27
  • 1
    I've edited your conclusion to include that possibility. What do you think?
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 17:38
  • 1
    @Schmuddi ok, I approved the edit
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 17:48

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